From the Denver Post: Stephen Marcus shares the wealth in Crested Butte
Here’s a reprint of a wonderful article Colorado’s Denver Post did on my music and 2010 fundraising campaign:
Stephen Marcus shares the wealth in Crested Butte
Sometimes, you have to give back to go forward. Singer-songwriter Stephen Marcus traces the beginnings of his music career back to the Crested Butte Arts Center, and now he wants to repay the favor.
In the tradition of great songwriters, Marcus plays simple, honest, folk-inflected music, with careful attention to lyrical details and very little clutter. Songs like “Rotate My Mind” and “If the Phone Ain’t Ringing” recall the road-roughened melodies and world-weary wit of John Prine, Townes Van Zandt and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Though Marcus is still developing and proving himself as an artist, his easy hand with a guitar and skill with turns of phrase promise very good things to come.
Like many others before him, Marcus recently packed up all the belongings that would fit in his car, gave away the rest and headed out to Nashville in search of stardom and a publishing contract. “It’s pretty cliche,” admits the 30-year-old Michigan native. Since arriving in Music City just three months ago, Marcus has been attending the city’s famous writers’ nights, making contacts and meeting with power brokers. “Nashville is all about music business,” he observes. “Everyone involved in it hangs out in the same small area.” While the musician notes a stark contrast between Nashville and the more eclectic, music-for-music’s-sake mentality of Austin — where he lived for a bit last year — he finds an even larger difference between both of those cities and Crested Butte, where it all began for him.
“I didn’t really know anything about Crested Butte when I moved there,” Marcus admits. “I moved out there from Michigan to live with my old college roommate for a summer, and I just stayed.” Soon after arriving, the young performer — then in his mid-20s — began hustling the mountain town’s bars and restaurants, and eventually landed a weekly residency at the Princess Wine Bar.
“It’s pretty transient,” says Marcus of the difficulties of building a following in a place like Crested Butte. “You’re most likely to end up playing for tourists — tap-dancing for them and hoping they’ll throw a five in your tip jar. I was doing my jazz hands,” he laughs.
In spite of the challenges to making a living as a musician in that town, it was a serendipitous show at the Crested Butte Arts Center that made Marcus start taking his music career seriously.
“Robert Earl Keen played a great show there,” the musician recalls, “and I went to Talk of the Town after that and he was there. I was so naive and stupid then.” Marcus shakes in head in disbelief at what he did after that. “I’d never met a real famous person like that. I walked up to him and said, ‘I’ve got my guitar and I’d like to play a song for you, if you don’t mind.’” With the benefit of a few more years’ experience, the singer-songwriter says he wouldn’t do that today. However, Robert Earl Keen followed Marcus outside, listened to his song, gave him a few pointers and excused himself.
While Keen didn’t leave Marcus with any sage advice, that encounter gave the aspiring performer the push he needed. “After being in the presence of someone who’s really doing it, I knew that was what I wanted to do.” The very next day, Marcus hauled his guitar to Peanut Lake and started writing and plotting his path forward as a musician.
Today, the raspy-voiced heartbreaker hasn’t yet achieved all he wants to. He hopes this year will bring both a publishing contract and his first full-length CD. In the meantime, however, he’s using his talents to help the Crested Butte Arts Center. He is offering the two aforementioned songs, “Rotate My Mind” and “If the Phone Ain’t Ringing,” as 25-cent downloads via his Bandcamp site, and he’s sharing half of all sales with CBAC.
While this gift probably won’t lead to thousands of dollars in funding for the Center, Marcus hopes that his small gesture will allow the Crested Butte Arts Center to continue to grow and act as the locus of the town’s artistic community. He sees it as the best way he can — with his own limited funds — give back to a place that was so important to his career. This winter, the Center’s calendar includes Boulder Acoustic Society, Suzy Bogguss, Great American Taxi and many others. “Crested Butte is so far out of the way,” explains Marcus, “but the Center does so much to expose this mountain town to some great performers.”
In Stephen Marcus’s case, the Center might have also had a hand in creating a great performer. Download his tracks, and keep an eye out for what this generous singer-songwriter does next.
Eryc Eyl is a veteran music journalist, critic and Colorado native who has been neck-deep in local music for many years. Check out Steal This Track every Tuesday for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout every Friday.
Help support a great non-profit music organization and click on the link below to donate a quarter or two 🙂